Knapp’s Castle Under Reconstruction

By Robert Bernstein

Saturday was a nice day to drive up into the mountains to see some places I had not visited for years. Our main destination was Knapp’s Castle, but we also made stops along the way. Here are my photos arranged in several galleries and a video.

Our first stop was the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park on Painted Cave Road. Here are my photos.

Here is the overall view inside the Painted Cave

The first time I came here was in 1984 when I bought my first car. (I am now on my second car.) That center section of the cave was full of art, but it has eroded away. I hope the remaining sections can be preserved. No one seems to know for sure what the art symbolizes. But I think the figure in the upper right of this section looks like Abraham Lincoln being surprised.
The toothed wheels make me think of some kind of counting system, as for a calendar. But what do I know? I am grateful that these historical works of art have been protected. We passed by Laurel Springs, which used to belong to Jane Fonda. Back then it was used as a camp for children. When she owned it you could go right in and wander around and no one would question you. Now it is all fenced off and the gates are locked.

Knapp’s Castle was rumored to be under development in recent years and I avoided going there. It is probably at least a dozen years since I tried to go in. On Saturday there were quite a few visitors and no signs saying to keep out. But, sure enough, the place was under major re-construction.

Workers were building a structure that incorporated the original stone ruins. It was a bit other-worldly to see the familiar ruins conjoined with new construction.

The first time I came up here was in 1983 with the Sierra Club. I took the bus to the meeting place in Santa Barbara and we carpooled to the Snyder Trail trailhead along Paradise Road on the other side of the mountains. It was a rather strenuous hike of almost 1900 feet of elevation gain.

When we got up there I was appalled and mystified by all the trash. I had no idea at the time that we were so close to a road! Still, it was enchanting to see these mysterious stone ruins. It was a place I would bring visitors from out of town. Walking from Camino Cielo it is only about a half mile and the views are spectacular. Including this view of Lake Cachuma.

As we approached the construction project on Saturday I called out to the workers to see if was OK to enter. They said it was OK as long as we stayed on the outside road and didn’t try to go into the construction area. They also said it soon may be closed off to visitors.

I noticed that there was a new gate that would be quite effective at keeping people out. Someone else we met said it was going to be a vacation rental, but I did not confirm this. This young couple had hiked up the Snyder Trail the way I had back in 1983.

I warned them that when I did that hike back then I could hardly walk for the next few days because my knees were so beaten up. I advised taking small steps to minimize that damage. Here are a few more photos of what we saw.

Here are the rest of my photos at Knapp’s Castle.

We then drove over to La Cumbre Peak along Camino Cielo where we met brother and sister Paul and Marianne Strange. Paul has been making this an annual challenge to bicycle from Stearn’s Wharf to the 4,000 foot peak on his birthday. Way beyond my comfort limit! I was impressed how many people we saw bicycling up there. 

Then we climbed to the top and took in this panoramic view.

This is a place where I normally am alone, but there were plenty of people up there this time. Camping and having picnics. We managed to stake out the remaining picnic table at the right in that panoramic image. We sat there eating cherries and taking in the view. The last time I was up there was several years ago when I hiked with friends over to Cathedral Peak.

As we sat there, a young couple was just about to attempt that same feat. I warned that it is not necessarily easier than getting there from below. The “trail” is very primitive and steep and it is very slippery. But they seemed to head out to do it anyway. Good for them!

The other thing we watched up there: Lots of bluebelly fence lizards. Some of them were furiously bobbing up and down in a show of territorial strength.

Here is a short video I made of two of them.

As we left we also saw these planes flying over in tight formation
Here are the rest of my photos at La Cumbre Peak.


Written by sbrobert

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  1. I visited Knapp’s back in January and chatted with the owner. He’s a fascinating and friendly guy named Cal. It would be worth trying to contact him and hear his story, both the history of the property and his 15 year journey to navigate the permit process in hopes of restoring it.
    Without him it would have been bulldozed by the dept. of forestry years ago. He also said it would be his home though he may also rent portions out as an airBnB type rental, but that he wold keep the property open to the public as he enjoys meeting people from all over the world who come to visit.

  2. Wonderful. One of the best “hike” articles you’ve shared. Thank you. Sorry to see The Castle will now be “restored” and just another 2nd/3rd home used for air bnb. It looks as though the Painted Cave paintings have been restored, too.

  3. As a surveyor that would lose ones’ job I’d have an issue with the USC&GS…I’d probably be OK with landing 4,000′ on a 3985′ runway as long as the water’s not too deep. I was… just kidding until you started going all ballistic on me.

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